Towards the end of Game 3’s third quarter, NBA TV's Isiah Thomas made an interesting observation. The game was already in hand for Miami when Thomas proclaimed the Miami Heat as the greatest small ball team in NBA history. While they don't quite play at the pace of a prototypical small ball lineup, their offensive efficiency was tops in the league during the regular season.
Before the season began, Heat President Pat Riley sounded off on Miami’s diminutive lineup and had a similar assessment.
“I’m a small ball guy if you have guys like LeBron, or James Worthy and Magic Johnson, guys who are 6’8” 225, 230 (pounds) and are very versatile,” Riley told The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami. “You can put that guy at power forward so to speak, and surround him with perimeter guys and a non-scoring center. That’s the nature of today’s game.”
However, Riley added his own caveat.
“Our small ball team is who we are now, I just want to have both.”
While it’s true that Miami relies on a slew of rangy shooters, including Ray Allen and Shane Battier, on the perimeter to clear the runway for for LeBron James and Dwayne Wade – Game 3 was a divergence from the usual.
Predictably, Indiana’s suffocating perimeter defense has Allen and Battier struggling behind the arc. Battier is 1-for-11 from three in this series and Ray Allen is 3-for-10, but has scavenged for points by diving off screens and darting towards the basket.
In the first two games of this series, Miami has been pummeled by Indiana’s space eaters in the lane. As a result, Eric Spoelstra has pumped an infusion of size into the Heat’s DNA.
In Allen and Battier’s place, the Heat looked to Chris Andersen and mainstay Udonis Haslem as alternative scoring valves. Andersen has been a revelation for Miami and is a perfect 13-for-13 from the field in this series.
Do most casual Heat fans even remember Haslem amidst the rock star fervor over The Big Three? He's the Heatles Ringo Starr and Wade’s Deputy Mayor of Miami. The Miami-born power forward has played for the Heat his entire 10-year career, but was displaced in the rotation by Battier this season. Battier is clearly a better defender on the perimeter and is a marksman behind the arc, but against the league’s top three-point defense, he’s become a liability. Indiana was eating good and Miami was looking malnourished.
Haslem shot 8-of-9 from the field in Game 3, after scoring three points in the first two games of this series. Indiana clamps down in the post and on the perimeter, but their main vulnerability all season long has been the midrange area. Haslem was 3-for-3 at the rim, but also made 5 of his 6 rhythm jumpers from the same spot on the right side.
The result was Miami’s best offensive performance of the series and a rout of Indiana.
Tired of getting pounded by Roy Hibbert and David West inside, Spoelstra decided to load down by slapping James in the paint. James, who has spent the last two summers refining his post-up skills with Hakeem Olajuwon, held his own post up clinic, and made all but one of his eight field goals in the rim’s area code.
Miami still had their asses handed to them on the offensive boards, but only because they couldn’t miss in the paint. James’ versatility has made him the portrait of NBA excellence, and small ball will be Miami’s legacy. They are six more wins from making that legacy immortal.